Transparency isn't for everyone, especially if you care about Privacy.

15th March 2024

Lenovo demoed a ThinkBook with a transparent display at MWC .

I was asked my opinion by TechTimes

I think as a concept a transparent display is a bad idea that sounds like a good idea. With the physical attributes, it feels utterly impracticable. look at our phone market with the need for after-market products to protect them.

There's the privacy aspect to consider as well. Laptops are designed to be portable. People take them to work in coffee-shops and there's an expectation of some form of privacy. I remember seeing clip-on screens being advertised in PC magazines in the 1990s to stop people looking over your shoulder.

But even if the use case was for public sharing of information, I'd imagine you'd see the display in reverse. Which is utterly stupid. If you are having a zoom call, you are infringing on someone's privacy with that concept.

This feels like an idea grounded in our recent popular culture. But even in those stories some information is locked down. The engineering designer works in a locked space. I can't imagine a writer being comfortable working in a coffee shop on an article or a book when people can look through that screen at the content and look at you.

It's a concept very symptomatic of our always-on, always-public tech world, which consists of a fairly privileged demographic that doesn't value privacy.

This concept isn't for the average consumer or a working professional. This concept is for a very specific demographic who wishes to be public, and who wishes to demonstrate when they are public. This concept is for the kind of person who can afford to replace the laptop when they break it. It's another form of conspicuous consumption.

While there may be use cases for hardware, to have this transparent display tech, we also have to consider what else that laptop may contain in its hardware and its software.

Lenovo doesn't have a great track record for user privacy with its usage data software that would reinstall itself, or with the software bloat it's peddled in the past. But then Lenovo isn't the only manufacturer that's peddled hardware with vulnerabilities or tracking. We need to have a larger conversation about privacy in our consumer hardware. [Links 1 to 5]

With the right to repair EU legislation, I suspect that conversation may pick up. Although that legislation is more about reducing waste rather than protecting consumer privacy. Although the EU does have legislation to try to protect Consumer privacy, more needs to be done.

Frankly, if the transparent laptop ever does make it to market, a better investment would be in open hardware, like the Framework laptop.[6][7] Although that option is expensive. The average consumer laptop is sold on retail not online, often consumers buy what the cheapest laptop is at the supermarket. With bloatware, insecure firmware and worse. It's the same issue with many mobile phones for consumers on a budget.

How much is your privacy though? How much does the average consumer want transparency on what's collecting their data and what happens to it? Again the transparent laptop isn't really for them. But the firmware and parts that could be used to build that laptop commercially could be used in budget to mid range models. So there is a larger question of privacy in hardware to be considered. Especially in our networked world of "Smart Devices" as part of the internet of things.

I think if people realized just how valuable even their usage data was when it's collated with their other data, they'd perhaps worry more. While we don't quite have our digital doubles, with our advertising profiles it's a corpus of individual private data. We're creating our digital poppets with our consumer hardware choices as well as our browsing choices.

We don't need new devices with transparent laptop screens. We shouldn't be increasing consumption of our planet's resources and contributing to landfill.

What we should be doing is reusing and optimising our existing devices more. If you want a Lenovo laptop, consider getting one of those tasty refurbished thinkpads[9] that Leah Rowe of Libreboot[10] does. It supports an important FOSS project and using refurbished hardware is great for the polar bears.